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ASU Football: Positional grades from Sun Devils’ win over Colorado

Report cards are in:

NCAA Football: Colorado at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12), as projected, defeated the Colorado Buffaloes (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) by a score of 41-30 on Saturday night, but won with a twist.

Arizona State trailed for nearly 40 minutes and by as much as 10 points with just under five minutes left in the third quarter before the Sun Devils scored 24 points on four occasions to seal the win.

Quarterbacks: B+

Wilkins went without being sacked for the first time all season, saw the ground game combine for nearly 400 ground, but believe it or not, threw for his worst completion percentage (52.9) since Oct. 15, 2016 when ASU was blown out by none other than Colorado, 40-16. Besides that point, he contributed a career-high 95 yards on the ground with a rushing touchdown and two passing TDs. Most importantly, he had 100 percent ball security (as Graham would say). In his last four games, Wilkins has thrown just one interception.

Running Backs: A+

With 381 yards, the Sun Devils amounted their most single-game rushing yards since Nov. 15, 1997 against Oregon when ASU gained 405 yards. Kalen Ballage, who missed the USC game with a stomach virus was back, but most importantly it was the combo between him, Demario Richard and Eno Benjamin that excelled. The trio averaged 7.6 yards per carry, as Richard crushed his career high with 189 yards on the ground. Benjamin, who also beat his career total with 52 yards, manipulated a 19-yard rampage run for a touchdown in which he broke at least five tackles to give ASU a 34-30 lead.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B

Granted Wilkins completed just 18 of his 34 passes, the wide receiving core still had a quality performance. The Sun Devils didn’t score until nearly 10 minutes into the second quarter, but it was N’Keal Harry who ended the drought on a toss up from Wilkins while being guarded by two defenders. He made it look easy. Kyle Williams used his speed for a 25-yard touchdown grab. All being said, the Sun Devils averaged just 11.2 yards per catch on Saturday night. To put things into perspective, ASU handled 15.4 yards per catch in its loss to USC last week and put up just 17 points.

Offensive line: A+

Wow, this unit has improved. From giving up a season-worst six sacks to New Mexico State and USC, to allowing just three sacks against Utah and Washington, the Sun Devils didn’t allow a single sack against Colorado. Also, they were disciplined. Playing up front comes with the curse of being most reluctant to the likely most common penalty in all of college football: false starts. The Sun Devils had two against USC (Cohl Cabral and A.J. McCollum). Against Colorado they had zero.

Defensive line: A

It was an issue against Rashaad Penny (216 yards). It was an issue against Bryce Love (301 yards). It was an issue against Ronald Jones II (216 yards). High powered running backs would burst through the defensive line, then put open field jukes onto the ASU secondary, bursting into the end zone. The Sun Devils limited big plays and held Philip Lindsay, the No. 3 running back in rushing yards in the nation, to just 80 yards. A.J. Latu had 1.5 sacks and Tashon Smallwood who had just three tackles for loss coming into Saturday, managed two TFLs against Colorado.

Linebackers: A

As usual, the linebackers gained a tremendous amount of tackles on Saturday night. Christian Sam tied Chase Lucas with 12 total tackles, while D.J. Calhoun managed eight. In total, Sam leads the Pac-12 in tackles by a stupendous margin: 14. He has 95 on the season. Behind him is Manase Hungalu of Oregon State who has 81 and Calhoun is in third with 78.

Corners/Safeties: C

The one unit to endure a disaster on Saturday night was the Sun Devil secondary. Colorado quarterback Steven Montez threw for over 300 yards for just the third time all season, as he managed 345 against ASU. Lucas had a career high 12 tackles and Chad Adams gained an interception, but corners Kobe Williams and even Lucas were beaten badly by Colorado receivers on multiple occasions, as Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo had guaranteed touchdown catches, but watched balls slip through their hands. Had two catches been made, the Sun Devils could be 4-5 on the season.

Special Teams: B-

Putting Harry at punt return was an absolutely incredible move by Graham. Harry had a 60-plus yard return, but it was brought back because of an illegal block in the back. Nonetheless, he’s just tougher to tackle than anyone on the field and it’ll show if he’s kept there. Michael Sleep-Dalton pinned the Buffaloes inside their own 20 and 10-yard line once each, but averaged just 42 yards per boot, which was roughly nine yards less than Colorado’s Alex Kinney. Brandon Ruiz punched through two field goals, as he remained perfect from under 40 yards all season, but missed from both 55 and 45 yards.